There are few scenes as perfect. The cooling night breeze breaks the heat of the day. Your good friend drives you to the selected destination in a busy city. And right in front of the restaurant is the waiting valet to whisk the car away, saving you both the long, impossible hunt for parking. The person at the front table welcomes you, checks your reservation, escorts you to the table you reserved. And you open the menu knowing you can literally order any single thing you want to eat on the menu. It’s luxurious. It’s spiritual.
Years ago a friend who ran a food blog asked me what my definition of luxury was. Without missing a beat, I said luxury is going into a restaurant and knowing I can eat anything on the menu. I explained that my life is much richer for the practice of choosing not to eat animal-based products or byproducts, but sometimes I go months and months in social settings playing the “Can you hold the _____ on this?” or “Can you ask the chef not to butter the bun on that?” game. It’s a second nature I’m happy to have, but it’s also tiring.
The relief of finding places where we can be more fully ourselves is not new. In our culture, many of our families of origin or faiths of those families did not allow us the freedom or the space to be ourselves in full. And the work of maturing and caring for ourself is finding social groups, friends, faith communities, work, and other places where we can let some of our guards down and let more of our full selves out. Self-expression creates vulnerability, the chance of being hurt. And when that vulnerability is met with understanding or even non-judgment, then intimacy takes form in our lives.
And intimacy, the kindness of recognizing, of seeing more fully the human sitting across from us, is the nourishing soil for so many of life’s gifts. From it grows the sturdy and resilient tree of trust that cools and shades our lives. From it flows the fruits that make life sweeter, like joy and laughter. And from it flowers the most delicate, mysterious structures like confidence and care. This is the garden we tend together in a community that welcomes, that seeks, and that strives to love one another exactly as we are.
The meal goes as I imagine. Over food I have no fear of eating, my dear friend and I share what old friends do…and then we are silent. Because passing behind my friend to a table, holding on to two friends, walks one of the wonders of the modern world…Stevie Wonder to be exact. And verse after chorus after verse of speaking truth, intimately and lovingly to the world, seems somehow to go before him while he holds his two friends softly, gently. And wordlessly you and your friend know you made this trip, paid this call, just to say, “I love you.” (Also, the banana pie was AMAZING!)
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.